The Price at Wyndham’s Theatre
The plays of Arthur Miller are a mainstay of the West End and Broadway; they crop up routinely as an example of something that deals with serious, heavy themes whilst still having remarkably enduring popular appeal, a combination that pulls in big names and venues. Despite this sustained focus, they also continue to bring problems for directors as the ideas and concepts central to them are so often intangible. We therefore see, season after season, different ways of staging themes of family loyalty, inheritance and faith.
The first of the two Miller plays running this season in London is his lesser celebrated The Price, directed by Jonathan Church (the second will be Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic). As two brothers argue over how to sell their ruined father’s estate to an ailing appraiser, this production has to figure out how to dramatise money, simultaneously insubstantial and omnipresent, as loans and debts shift and negotiate around the characters.
Designer Simon Higlett has created a set that stands up to this challenge. The stage is heaped with period furniture that towers up the walls and onto the ceiling in a gravity-defying representation of the weight, excess and farce of wealth and wealth lost. Unfortunately, however, this incredible set design is underserved by the direction and acting. Instead of using the architecture to choreograph the actors’ movements and add dimension to their arguments, Church allows them to dawdle between three main points. The actors never look like they have left the rehearsal space and drift around, uncertain amongst the towers that surround them.
Meanwhile, the acting itself is hammy and the beats and rhythm of the dialogue are painfully textbook. Brendan Coyle brings his characteristic brand of dour morality to the central role of policeman Victor. This placidness is jarring against David Suchet’s Gregory Solomon, a caricature of a Jewish furniture dealer and perhaps ex-acrobat that, whilst intended to bring some comic relief, is mostly just uncomfortable. The only potential for interest and surprise comes from Sara Stewart, whose performance as Victor’s wife Esther is tragically nuanced in its portrayal of a woman whose livelihood is completely at the whim of the feelings and pride of men she cannot influence. These momentary glimpses, however, are mostly overshadowed by the predictable focus on brotherly angst.
In the programme, there is a glimpse of ingeniousness as they translate the values and figures ascribed to various objects throughout the play into contemporary currency, giving the audience a very visceral insight into the stakes and mechanisms of the play. This reading between the lines, however, is not translated to the actual performance at all. This production skates along the surface, leaving more interesting ideas unexplored so that the intangible remains intangible.
Photo: Nobby Clark
The Price is at Wyndham’s Theatre from 5th February until 27th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.